July 15: Week at a Glance

Let’s try this again.

Instead of the intended promise (to myself, at least) of posting every day, I’m cutting myself (and, thus, the reader) some slack and writing a weekly update. I may throw in an extra post now and then for special occasions.

Without further ado, here is the first installment of the week in review and a glimpse of the week ahead.

We came back from an amazing vacation at the Jersey Shore last Saturday, all rested and relaxed–so relaxed, apparently, that all 5 of us were nodding off during Sunday’s 8 AM Latin Mass. Now, it can be especially easy to drift asleep during the Latin Rite because the Mass moves in a melodic pattern of words from a “dead” language. If you’ve been sunning yourself and stuffing your face for the past seven days, it’s even easier.

We were in various stages of semi-consciousness, when the priest suddenly (or maybe it just seemed suddenly) began belting out a fire-and-brimstone homily. The homily, by the way, is always in English at the Latin Mass (thank goodness). The priest was probably about halfway through his sermon when his voiced raised to a dramatic pitch, and he began to remind us what being Catholic should be all about.

It certainly felt like the priest was doing this for our benefit — wake up, sleeping sinners! — but it’s more likely that he was just trying to get his point across. His stern admonitions certainly set the tone for the rest of the week.

This leads me to a confession: I don’t physically go to Mass every single day. I had every intention of doing so. Sometimes, though, your circumstances just won’t allow it, so you look for alternatives. Two of the easiest for me have been 1.) listening to morning Mass on my way to work, courtesy of EWTN radio on Sirius XM, and 2.) reading the scriptures for the day via Bishop Robert Barron. While neither of these offers the ultimate benefit of receiving the Eucharist, I can at least have some daily time with God and scripture.

With that in mind, I listened to Mass on my way to work last Monday. On Tuesday, I visited the Poor Clares Monastery in Cleveland for Eucharistic Adoration and a special treat: the chance to reconnect with a friend from grade school. Not high school or college. Grade school. As in, we lost touch after 8th grade. There were a lot of years to catch up on, and we probably made it through about half of them over lunch. Before that, we had an opportunity to visit the beautiful little chapel. It was a lovely day.

Wednesday brought another day of Mass on the road, while Thursday and Friday led me to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, where I lit candles in front of St. Teresa of Calcutta (for the ability to unselfishly help others) and St. Anthony (praying in advance to help me find things I’ll lose in the future).

Yesterday, the gospel was about the Good Samaritan. I could dive into political waters at this point, discussing what is and isn’t our obligation as Good Samaritans, but let’s leave it here: Any time there is an opportunity to help someone in need, we should take it. The gesture can be as small as holding the door open for someone or as large as donating a kidney to a stranger. The Good Samaritan doesn’t stop to think about what the consequences might be for him/her; the focus is always on how to help the other person.

The most important part about being a Good Samaritan is taking action, not just thinking about how important it is to treat others with kindness. So this week, the emphasis for me is on really helping others rather than pointing out the inaction of others. I’m also going to take a shot at helping others (especially my family members) without complaining. Wish me luck.

June 17: No Resistance

How pertinent today’s gospel is, and how quickly it is to forget:

Jesus said to his disciples:

“You have heard that it was said,

An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.

But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil.

When someone strikes you on your right cheek,

turn the other one to him as well.

If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic,

hand him your cloak as well.

Should anyone press you into service for one mile,

go with him for two miles.

Give to the one who asks of you,

and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.”

Matthew 5:38-42

June 12: (Saint) Tolton

First, a confession. Every single time I go to church, I count the number of “minorities” in the space. I am always disappointed that the majority of attendees are white; sometimes, they are all white. I grew up in a diverse community, but I didn’t know a single black person who attended a Catholic church. When the Hispanic Catholic church in town was asked to merge with our Italian-American parish, it at first caused quite a stir. Why are we not integrated in our faith, I keep asking myself.

One day on NPR, I heard a deacon speak. His name is Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers. He is black and he wrote a book about Fr. Augustine Tolton, a former slave who became the first black priest in the United States. Why hadn’t I heard of either of these men before? Now that I finally had, I couldn’t stop thinking about either of them and their challenges within the Church.

Imagine my surprise and joy this morning when I read that Pope Francis is advancing Fr. Tolton for sainthood. From the article:

Despite rampant racism and discrimination, he became one of the city’s most popular pastors, attracting members of both white and black Catholic communities. He spearheaded the building of St. Monica Church for black Catholics and worked tirelessly for his congregation in Chicago, even to the point of exhaustion. On July 9, 1897, he died of heatstroke on a Chicago street at the age of 43.

He was known for persevering against all odds in pursuit of his calling and quietly devoted himself to his people, despite great difficulties and setbacks.

Carol Glatz, Catholic News Service

You can read more about Fr. Tolton in the article and in the deacon’s book. God bless Fr. Tolton, hopefully soon to be St. Tolton!

May 8: Anniversary blessings

While I did not attend Mass in a church today (listened to it on the radio), I fondly recalled my wedding Mass 20 years ago on this date. It was a windy, overcast day; my father had accidentally dropped my wedding gown on the floor; and my mother was recovering from the removal of some sort of killer corn that clearly was more painful than anything ever experienced by another human being. Still, nothing could cloud the beauty of my wedding day.

To be honest, my parents were nervous, although I don’t understand why. By the time I got married I was 34, so you think they’d have been ready to push me up the aisle. But that’s how my family rolls. And so they had to be forgiven for their clumsy hands and corn complaints. As I recall, absolutely everything else about that day was perfect.

I wish I could remember the words Monsignor Ashton said during his homily. It’s a shame that I don’t, but I do remember kneeling at the foot of Mary’s statue while the organist sang “Ave Maria,” and I remember that our communion song was “One Bread, One Body.” I distinctly remember telling my bridesmaids that they could cut the long black dresses I’d asked them to wear so they could reuse them — a huge lie told by many a bride and one that I had sworn I’d never tell. Getting married makes you do crazy things.

It has been a wild 20 years, and I can honestly say I haven’t been bored for a minute. It’s because of my husband that I’ve chosen to reconsider my faith and what it means to me, and because of him that I’ve gone back to Mass on a regular basis. I’ve also lost the “Catholic guilt” that I carried around for a few decades, while increasing my appreciation of what it means to be a Catholic. At the same time, every Mass I attend or listen to on the radio makes me think about the faults of the Church, especially of the abuse that went on (and possibly still goes on).

If I had the short-sighted faith I once I had, I would have left the Church for good in 2002. Even now, it’s hard to look at a priest and not wonder if he was hurting others. What has made me go on is realizing that the Church is really God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit. They put mortals in charge of it, and mortals have a tendency to screw up. It’s unfortunate, especially when the problems are so severe and so hurtful to many.

It’s very flawed. And so is marriage, to be honest. So is just about any situation you encounter with another human being. You get angry, become self-involved, hurt someone else, let others hurt you. It’s messy. We don’t expect that kind of a mess when it comes to the Church. Then again, I wasn’t expecting some of the messy moments during my marriage.

If you’re lucky, you learn from the mistakes and move on. That’s what my husband and I have done. It’s what the Church is trying to do, but it’s hard when new stories emerge on a fairly consistent basis. I feel like I got a do-over more than once in my marriage, and it helped a lot. I demand a do-over for the Church. It’s the only chance of saving the relationship.

May 6: Monday, Sunny Monday

It is a beautiful sunny day in Cleveland, and the perfect time to get back to writing about the Mass. Today, I was at the Cathedral downtown, where there was a nice amount of people on hand. (Does sunshine coax more people out of their homes/offices and into church?)

Things are not so sunny for Stephen in today’s first reading. Stephen is preaching the word of Christ and speaking very eloquently, and the elders don’t like it. They bring their grievances to the Sanhedrin.


“This man never stops saying things against this holy place and the law.
For we have heard him claim
that this Jesus the Nazarene will destroy this place
and change the customs that Moses handed down to us.”

Acts 6:8-15

Can we blame them for being upset? They had years and years of living their faith in a certain way, and then Jesus came along to say it was supposed to be different. And then they feel like they can relax because Jesus is no longer around, but then he’s got disciples coming out of the woodwork, talking about Christ and trying to convert people to Christianity.

Things don’t end well for Stephen. In fact, he is considered to be the first martyr of the Church. But it’s also said that Stephen was so filled with the Holy Spirit that he had to go out and talk about Jesus and Christianity. Can you imagine being that filled with the Holy Spirit? I have to ask myself, if I knew it was dangerous would I stand up and proclaim my faith or run as fast as my feet could carry me? I’d like to think the answer would be the former; luckily, I have yet to be put to the test.

Thursday, April 18: Crazy

We’re about halfway through the Latin Mass on Holy Thursday when it dawns on me: Jesus did some pretty out-there stuff. On Palm Sunday, he tells his disciples to go fetch him a donkey, then he rides it into town. This is to fulfill a prophesy, sure, but was anyone expecting it at that moment?

A few days later, during their Passover meal, Jesus just starts washing his disciples’ feet. Peter is rather appalled. Why in the world is the Lord washing my feet? Then, he does something even more cray-cray: He breaks the bread and calls it his body; he lifts the chalice of wine and calls it his blood.

At this point, the disciples are in a little too deep to just walk away. I wonder if any of them thought of it, though. “You know, Jesus over here is exhibiting some strange tendencies. I may have to cut out of this dinner early.” Everyone stays, though, including that scoundrel Judas, who’s about to turn in Jesus for some silver.

The point is, the disciples have followed Jesus all this time, and they’ve witnessed some unusual activity. Turning a loaf of bread and two fish into enough food to feed thousands of people, for example. By the end of the Passover with Jesus, they must think they’ve seen it all.

That is until days later, after he’s crucified, when he leaves the tomb and walks among them. Hold onto your hats, disciples!

Wed., April 17: Doggone It

On my way out of church today, a woman walked in with her dog. This was not a service dog; it was an every day energetic spaniel mix on a basic leash. The woman had obviously been on a walk with the dog — the blue poop bag in her left hand (which appeared to be empty at the moment) was a good clue — and decided to stop into the cathedral.

At first, I was going to do my sideways, middle-aged glance as a mild form of contempt. Throwing a bit of shade, as it were. Then I thought, so what? Who cares if this woman was out for a stroll with her dog and decided it would be great if they both went inside? Maybe the dog was sick and its owner wanted to say a quick healing prayer. Perhaps she had a sick relative or a pressing concern and this was the only time she could step inside the church to pray. Maybe she just felt like walking in with her dog because, why not?

I’m sure St. Francis had animals wandering in and out of his monastery. If you visited an ancient church in a faraway village, you might see a dog or a goat pad down the aisle. Why not in downtown Cleveland? Instead of looking askance, I gave the woman a smile. Peace be with you, and with your little dog, too.

Wed., March 10th: Good Deeds

There was a time, not all that long ago, when I would have been annoyed about having to put aside my own activity to help someone else. But recently I read a blog post on some Catholic site (unfortunately, I can’t remember which one) that encouraged readers to think of these disturbances as a chance to grow and to make a difference in someone else’s life.

Fast forward to this morning. Someone in the house forgot an important item needed later in the day, and I immediately volunteered to deliver it in the afternoon. As soon as I agreed to this deal, I realized that meant I couldn’t go to church today, and for a second, I was pretty annoyed (mostly with myself since I volunteered to deliver the item). Then, I remembered that blog post I had read, and I realized that delivering this item to a teenager who otherwise would have been stressed out counts as a type of church activity. It’s not just about listening to a homily and receiving communion — as significant as those might be. Using what you learn in the pew is the perfect complement to attending Mass. And so I happily delivered the item to the grateful child and drove back to work. Sounds so simple, but it didn’t feel that way to me.

From today’s Gospel: “If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples,
and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:32

Mon., April 8th: Oh, Susanna!

I believe I found the very first recorded instance of #metoo in today’s first reading.

In Babylon there lived a man named Joakim,
who married a very beautiful and God-fearing woman, Susanna,
the daughter of Hilkiah;
her pious parents had trained their daughter
according to the law of Moses.
Joakim was very rich;
he had a garden near his house,
and the Jews had recourse to him often
because he was the most respected of them all.

That year, two elders of the people were appointed judges,
of whom the Lord said, “Wickedness has come out of Babylon:
from the elders who were to govern the people as judges.”
These men, to whom all brought their cases,
frequented the house of Joakim.
When the people left at noon,
Susanna used to enter her husband’s garden for a walk.
When the old men saw her enter every day for her walk,
they began to lust for her.
They suppressed their consciences;
they would not allow their eyes to look to heaven,
and did not keep in mind just judgments.

One day, while they were waiting for the right moment,
she entered the garden as usual, with two maids only.
She decided to bathe, for the weather was warm.
Nobody else was there except the two elders,
who had hidden themselves and were watching her.
“Bring me oil and soap,” she said to the maids,
“and shut the garden doors while I bathe.”

As soon as the maids had left,
the two old men got up and hurried to her.
“Look,” they said, “the garden doors are shut, and no one can see us;
give in to our desire, and lie with us.
If you refuse, we will testify against you
that you dismissed your maids because a young man was here with you.”

I am completely trapped,” Susanna groaned.
“If I yield, it will be my death;
if I refuse, I cannot escape your power.
Yet it is better for me to fall into your power without guilt
than to sin before the Lord.”
Then Susanna shrieked, and the old men also shouted at her,
as one of them ran to open the garden doors.
When the people in the house heard the cries from the garden,
they rushed in by the side gate to see what had happened to her.
At the accusations by the old men,
the servants felt very much ashamed,
for never had any such thing been said about Susanna.

When the people came to her husband Joakim the next day,
the two wicked elders also came,
fully determined to put Susanna to death.
Before all the people they ordered:
“Send for Susanna, the daughter of Hilkiah,
the wife of Joakim.”
When she was sent for,
she came with her parents, children and all her relatives.
All her relatives and the onlookers were weeping.

In the midst of the people the two elders rose up
and laid their hands on her head.
Through tears she looked up to heaven,
for she trusted in the Lord wholeheartedly.
The elders made this accusation:
“As we were walking in the garden alone,
this woman entered with two girls
and shut the doors of the garden, dismissing the girls.
A young man, who was hidden there, came and lay with her.
When we, in a corner of the garden, saw this crime,
we ran toward them.
We saw them lying together,
but the man we could not hold, because he was stronger than we;
he opened the doors and ran off.
Then we seized her and asked who the young man was,
but she refused to tell us.
We testify to this.”
The assembly believed them,
since they were elders and judges of the people,
and they condemned her to death.

But Susanna cried aloud:
“O eternal God, you know what is hidden
and are aware of all things before they come to be:
you know that they have testified falsely against me. 
Here I am about to die,
though I have done none of the things
with which these wicked men have charged me.”

The Lord heard her prayer.
As she was being led to execution,
God stirred up the holy spirit of a young boy named Daniel,
and he cried aloud:
“I will have no part in the death of this woman.”
All the people turned and asked him, “What is this you are saying?”
He stood in their midst and continued,
“Are you such fools, O children of Israel! 
To condemn a woman of Israel without examination
and without clear evidence?
Return to court, for they have testified falsely against her.”

Then all the people returned in haste.
To Daniel the elders said,
“Come, sit with us and inform us,
since God has given you the prestige of old age.”
But he replied,
“Separate these two far from each other that I may examine them.”

After they were separated one from the other,
he called one of them and said:
“How you have grown evil with age!
Now have your past sins come to term:
passing unjust sentences, condemning the innocent,
and freeing the guilty, although the Lord says,
‘The innocent and the just you shall not put to death.’
Now, then, if you were a witness,
tell me under what tree you saw them together.”
“Under a mastic tree,” he answered.
Daniel replied, “Your fine lie has cost you your head,
for the angel of God shall receive the sentence from him
and split you in two.”
Putting him to one side, he ordered the other one to be brought.
Daniel said to him,
“Offspring of Canaan, not of Judah, beauty has seduced you,
lust has subverted your conscience.
This is how you acted with the daughters of Israel,
and in their fear they yielded to you;
but a daughter of Judah did not tolerate your wickedness.
Now, then, tell
me under what tree you surprised them together.”
“Under an oak,” he said.
Daniel replied, “Your fine lie has cost you also your head,
for the angel of God waits with a sword to cut you in two
so as to make an end of you both.”

The whole assembly cried aloud,
blessing God who saves those who hope in him.
They rose up against the two elders,
for by their own words Daniel had convicted them of perjury.
According to the law of Moses,
they inflicted on them
the penalty they had plotted to impose on their neighbor:
they put them to death.
Thus was innocent blood spared that day.
— Daniel 13:1-9, 15-17, 19-30, 33-62 

Tuesday, April 2: Name That Saint

Did you know there are nearly 11,000 saints in the Catholic Church? Neither did I. It seems to me that we hear about the same 30 or 40 saints over and over, and the other 10,960 or so go unnoticed.

For instance, today is the feast day of St. Francis of Paola. He lived in Italy in the 1400s, preferring the life of a hermit. By the time he was 20, he had followers who wanted to emulate his way of life. In the late 1400s, Francis founded a hermetic community that he called the Minims, or the least, because he wanted to be seen as the least among God’s people. Now there’s a guy with no ego.

Even though he liked solitude, Francis knew that God wanted him to help other people. He became an advocate for the poor, and he traveled to France to help Louis XI prepare for his death. Francis himself died while he was in France. Although Francis of Paola is not as well known as other saints, he seems to have lived a notable religious life.

While I was searching for information about the life of today’s saint, I read about the large number of saints recognized by the Church throughout the centuries. Some of their stories are something of a legend. Christopher and Valentine, for example, have a bit of fantasy around their life stories.

Then there are the saints who were more of local heroes. The most bizarre one I found was St. Guinefort, who apparently earned his sainthood because he saved his master’s child from a deadly snakebite. Guinefort was a dog living in rural France in the 13th century. I happen to believe that dogs were created to bring happiness to humans, but I’m not so sure they should reach the level of sainthood.

Modern-day saints have a relatable story, even if their faith seems light years beyond our own. One of the most intriguing saints of this century, in my opinion, is Gianna Molla. She was an Italian physician and mother who seemed to live a routine life based on faith. During her sixth pregnancy, Gianna was diagnosed with a tumor. She had the tumor removed, but she refused to lose the child. A week after giving birth to a healthy baby, Gianna died. Talk about putting the life of another above your own.

We can always learn something from a saint, even if it’s a dog. Be kind to others, put yourself last, take out a snake when you have to.